a visit to Antioch - beyond the tourist tracks

Antakya Travel Blog

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Bus station Alanya, waiting for the coach to Antakya

When I decided go to Alanya for a spring break this year, I was determined to visit some part of eastern or southern Turkey as well. My second day in Alanya I took the local bus to the Otagar (bus station) and bought a ticket for Hatay in southeast of Turkey close to the Syrian boarder. In ancient days this town was the biblical city Antioch, where the first christian church outside Jerusalem was established. In the ticket-booth I was told there is a night-bus to Hatay and it will take around twelve hours one way. So, the next evening I went out to Otagar in Alanya, waiting for the night-bus to Hatay. There are several bus-companies running these services and the prices can vary a little. I was told that Akendiz was a good and reliable company.

The coach to Antakya
After a while the bus from Antalya arrived, and stopped to take us up. On the busticket your seat is set, but I didn't notice that, and nobody spoke English neither French, so it took me some minutes before I had installed myself on my proper seat. :)

It was a lot of roadworks during the first three hours on the road so the coach ran very slowly. After midnight we suddenly were stopped by the police in what was like a check-point. They collected all our ID-papers my passport included. On this route it seemed like I was the only foreigner and the police went away with all our documents. After say fifteen minutes the bus started and I haven't got my passport back.

Antakya city centre, and their blue local buses
Nobody told me that the driver had collected them all and the bus-steward (all longrun buses have a bus-steward) came up with them later. Since I didn't have anyone to ask /my turkish is just a few words/ it was a little bit confusing for a while. The road had now winded uphills for one hour or so and it started to get a bit nippy so I took my sweater on, and that was really good. Soon I fell asleep and woke up after an hour or so when the coach stopped for a brake. The Turkish coaches are very comfortable and if you don't have too long legs it is alright to have a proper rest. After some further hours we passed the big city of Adana and stopped at the Otogar for people getting off and on. The road is along the coast and in the dawn I  could see the peaks of the Taursus mountains in the north and the Mediterranian sea in the south when the bus took its way on the road across the fertile plain of Cukurova .
Antakya city centre
 In the early morning hours we were heading south and uphills again in the southern part of the Taurus mountains. You could see how cottagebushes and lemontrees were growing nearby the road.  All the trip the steward served us with water and coffee and some snacks and the journey was really enjoyable. We passed a defile mountain pass and I've read that in this very mountain pass many historical battles has taken place.

After a couple of hours we approached Antakya, 'the Queen of the Orient', as it was called in ancient times. When we entered the Otogar/bus-station/ and descended the coach, the taxi drivers shouted like on an auction or public sale....Aleppo, Damascus, Hatay, Iskenderun etc.

Antakya, view from my balcony
It was like a competition who shouted most times and loudest to get their passangers. I just ignored them and looked out for the locas bus into the centre of the town. When I had entered the bus as the only tourist it was a very interesting experience as the bus took detours through the rural suburbs of Antakya. A woman entered the bus with two chickens going to the market, I suppose. And different local characters gave me very interesting moments of imagination and good thoughts for them. The blue buses crossed all the town of Antakya and this one stopped in the very city centre. Now I had to find my way through the maze-like alleys of the old town up to the Catholic Church Guesthouse. It took me some time to locate it and not many people could speak English, but suddenly it just was there. I was welcomed by the catholic priest who showed me my room.
Antakya, a mosque in the old jewish quarters
Now it was time for a cold shower and some rest.

I walked for hours through the old town and its markets and interesting small shops. In the afternoon I took a walk for about four kilometers out to St. Peter's grotto. This is the place, according to the tradition, where the first church outside Jerusalem was established. In the Bible book of Acts one can read ' it was in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians'. The grotto is in the outskirts of the city on a hillside surrounded by green pastures. The site was discovered by the Crusaders. It is still possible to recognize what is left of some floor mosaics. The recently restored facade dates back to teh time of the crusaders. It was a special moment to read from the Acts of Apostles inside that very grotto, as the sunbeams searched their way inside.

Antakya, old town
I was alone in there for a very long time.

In the evening I looked up a good restaurant for my dinner. I found a place tastefully decorated with photos and antique furnitures and you could easily think of to eat in the house of some friends.

The next day I spend a lot of time in Antakya Archeological Museum. They have a lot of Roman mosaics from the first up to the fifth centuaries A.D. Many of them decorated in those days the floors in the luxuary Roman villas in the town, while others came fromthe nearby suburban resort of Daphne and some from Tarsus. Antioch was e.g. a center for many rich Romans in those days.

 

 

vances says:
Wow, quite a trip...not knowing where your passport was on the bus trip must have been very tense!
Posted on: May 05, 2010
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Antakya Hostels review
central located and peaceful
If you want a very special lodging this is highly to recommend. I stayed three nights in this very special guesthouse and visited the mass in Turkish … read entire review
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photo by: Deats